First Advisor

Holley Tankersley


Since 1952 there have been thirteen instances in which the incumbent president's party lost seats in the House of Representatives in a midterm election. Researchers have created two competing theories to explain this trend. The surge-and-decline theory argues that the reasons for causing high voter turnout in a presidential election are absent in a midterm election, leading to a decline in voter turnout and subsequent losses by the president's party. The other theory, the referendum theory, argues that losses suffered by the president's party are due to the president's performance and the performance of the economy. When it comes to presidential elections, out of the thirteen midterm election losses, the incumbent party was able to retain the White House in the subsequent presidential election six times. The other six times, the incumbent party lost the White House. However, there is little to no research explaining why this is the case. This article attempts to answer two questions. First, can results of midterm elections serve as an indicator of gauging a president's reelection chances? Second, if so, which theory, surge-and-decline or referendum, helps explain this trend this best? Utilizing statistical analysis, my research shows that there is insufficient evidence to conclude whether midterm elections can serve as an indicator of gauging a president's reelection chances.



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